The Truth About the Facebook Cambridge Analytica Scandal

By now, you have heard various information about the notorious Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, but what does it really mean for users and the marketing industry? Here’s our take on the impact of the scandal.

What Happened?
Marketers and many users know that Facebook collects user data via apps and behavior. This data is one of the main reasons that Facebook blows its competition out of the water as far as targeting and useful, trackable digital advertising campaigns go. More than 2 billion monthly active Facebook users create a lot of data.

In 2014, a researcher was collecting data through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” which prompted users to take personality quizzes and then harvested their data — and the data of their friends. The researcher had told Facebook he would be using the data for academic research.

The app was downloaded by 270,000 users who all agreed to allow the app to collect their data, but because the app also collected the data of their friends, it collected information on what was thought to be more than 50 million people. That number eventually grew to 87 million.

The issue here is that many users didn’t know how their information would be collected and used, and the users who had their data collected secondarily didn’t even know the app existed.

Cambridge Analytica later came into contact with this information through the researcher. Who is Cambridge Analytica? It’s the firm the Trump campaign used to target individuals with tailored content about the election and politics. Cambridge Analytica specifically targeted swing voters with the ads. So now, Facebook is catching fire for an information breach that helped Trump win the election.

What Didn’t Happen?
Many people misunderstand what occurred and what makes this issue so important to the marketing industry and social media users. There wasn’t an information “breach” or “hack,” as there wasn’t an outside intrusion or an inside leak. The information technically was given and taken with user consent — with exception of the second-party collection. The issue it brings up is about the use of data collected from Facebook in general and the transparency in how that data is collected.

Facebook is in the business of collecting data and selling it to advertisers so they can market to you and continually show you content you are interested in. That’s how the company makes money. However, there is a way to do this with sense, safety and intelligence. The issue with the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal is that users feel what happened was negligent, and others didn’t even know their information was collected.

Looking Forward
So, what does this mean for the social media industry and its users? Users will have a heightened sense of awareness of what information they agree to give away, which will be reflected in what they agree to share about themselves online. Some users are even abandoning the Facebook platform altogether.

Another result of the scandal is that the social media industry will see more regulation for app developers and third-party developers.

Recently, Facebook announced a targeting rule that advertisers can’t use third-party data for targeting unless they can provide proof that the users consented to having their information used for marketing.

Third-party tools that social media managers use will also be affected. Stream monitoring and tagging won’t be allowed in management applications, and analytics information will be minimized. There will likely be a call for transparency in how information will be collected and used by third-party apps and advertisers.

We’ve also seen companies that advertise on Facebook — like Mozilla — pull their media dollars from the social media titan until stricter and more transparent rules are put in place. Facebook has always considered protecting its users and data a priority. That’s why its algorithm changes frequently — to put the power back into the users’ hands so they can customize the platform with information they want to see versus information they are involuntarily fed from advertisers. It’s also why Facebook eliminated its preview option, preventing people from manipulating articles and further fanning the flames of “fake news.”

As marketers, we will need to be aware of the upcoming changes in how Facebook user data is collected, and we must use that data responsibly and with the best intentions. We’ll also need to take heed, as the need for transparency and regulations for using data for paid targeting will increase.

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